If a film festival falls in the middle of a strike, will anyone come? This is the question that the 80th Biennale is currently facing as it hopes to attract A-list celebrities to its red carpet. Despite the ongoing SAG-AFTRA and WGA strikes, several hot-ticket films in Venice have secured interim agreement waivers from SAG-AFTRA, allowing affiliated talent to participate in promotion and publicity at the festival.
Among the films that have secured waivers are Michael Mann’s “Ferrari” starring Adam Driver and Penélope Cruz, and Luc Besson’s “Dogman” with Caleb Landry Jones. However, this waiver does not include films from the streamers or the studios, known as “struck productions.” This means that even with permission from the union, it remains uncertain whether top stars will actually show up at the festival.
Many top stars may choose to stand in solidarity with their striking peers and avoid the potential backlash of posing for selfies on the Lido. One festival publicist notes that “glamming it up at Venice while your colleagues are on the picket line isn’t a good look.” As a result, some films will not have their better-known Hollywood talent present, such as Lily James and Willem Dafoe in Saverio Costanzo’s competition title “Finally Dawn,” and Liam Neeson in Robert Lorenz’s “In the Land of Saints and Sinners.”
In addition to the potential absence of A-list stars, producers and sales agents have also complained about the haphazard application of the union waiver system. There doesn’t seem to be a clear reason why some projects received an interim agreement while others were rejected, leaving the red carpet attendance of several top talents still to be determined.
Bradley Cooper is one example of a star who won’t be walking the Venice red carpet this year for the world premiere of his film “Maestro.” While he could have attended as the film’s director, he decided to show his support for striking actors by staying home. “Maestro” is also a Netflix film, making any promotion of it potentially triggering a SAG-AFTRA backlash.
The same dilemma applies to “Ferrari,” which obtained its promotional waiver through its U.S. distributor, Neon, while Amazon, a member of AMPTP, will release the biopic in international territories. If the stars promote the movie at the festival, they may be seen as scabs.
For AMPTP-backed titles, Venice will be a starless affair. Yorgos Lanthimos will be doing press for his competition entry, “Poor Things,” which is released in the U.S. by Disney’s Searchlight Pictures, but without his A-list cast of Emma Stone, Mark Ruffalo, and Margaret Qualley. Instead, Searchlight has offered up below-the-line heads of department for press junkets.
Netflix is taking a similar approach, flying in crafts talent for David Fincher’s “The Killer,” including Oscar-winning cinematographer Erik Messerschmidt and composers Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, as well as “Maestro’s” cinematographer Matthew Libatique and costume designer Mark Bridges. This might result in a red carpet filled with film editors, makeup artists, and VFX specialists, though it remains uncertain whether the paparazzi will be drawn to such a scene.
The responsibility of providing celebrity glamour at the Venice Film Festival might fall on the true independents and international features with non-American talents. Danish heartthrob Mads Mikkelsen’s presence is expected to draw crowds for the premiere of the Scandinavian period drama “The Promised Land.” Eurostars Fanny Ardant and Joaquim de Almeida are anticipated for Roman Polanski’s film “The Palace.” Hong Kong icon Tony Leung will be attending to receive a lifetime achievement award. Caleb Landry Jones and “Dogman” co-star Jojo T. Gibbs will also be present, along with director Luc Besson. While it may not be the star-studded spectacular Venice had hoped for on its 80th anniversary, it will likely be enough to keep Lido fans excited.